Terra 2022


Perspectives on the conservation of Buddhist earthen material heritage in the Himalayan region

Basgo, Ladakh, Fifteenth century fort complex, with the Chamba Lakhang (Temple of Maitreya, the future Buddha) on the left and the ruined palace complex on the right.
Photo: Sanjay Dhar

Manjushri, the Buddha of Knowledge, Distemper on earthen surface, 12 – 13th C CE, Mangyu, Ladakh.
Photo: Sanjay Dhar

Photo on right:
Chamba (Seated Maitreya, the future Buddha), Painted earthen sculpture, Hunder, Nubra , Ladakh, 15th C.
Photo: Sanjay Dhar


Event Description

The Himalayan region has a rich legacy of earthen architecture, paintings on earthen surfaces, earthen sculpture and other artistic material. The survival of earthen architecture and other artistic material over the millennia belies its apparent fragility and demonstrates its resilience. Threats from a number of agents of deterioration put much of this heritage material at risk.

All across the Himalayan region, over the past few decades, committed efforts have been made to conserve the surviving heritage material. Many of these conservation initiatives have raised a number of important ethical, theoretical challenges with regards to the idea of recreation of losses, respect for local conservation traditions and the idea that restoring the purpose for which the heritage material was created takes precedence in conservation decisions, just to name a few. And then there are new challenges such as migration of the young out of villages which is affecting the routine maintenance of temples, leaving them vulnerable to a variety of risks.

It is in this context that the panelists share and discuss their understanding of the challenges and issues (present and future) related to conservation of earthen material in the region. Motivated by the inaugural TERRA 2022 event, it is hoped that the presentations and the discussions focused on the earthen heritage material of the Himalayan region bring out the commonalities of living/using and conserving earthen material in different latitudes and climate zones, alongside engaging with the local communities.

Sanjay Dhar (Moderator): Introduction

Topic for 10 minute presentations

Christian Luczanits:  An Art-Historian’s Perspective

Gurmeet Rai: Searching compatibility in conservation and renewal

Sreekumar Menon: Wall paintings of Ladakh – Painting technique and its significance in conservation decisions.

Arun Menon: Engineering Considerations in Conservation of Mud Constructions

Kuanghan Li: Building with earth- the cases of China and Himalayas

The Terra 2022 year-long virtual lead-up event series, running from June 2021 to June 2022, presents the richness and diversity of earthen architectural heritage around the world, the individuals and organizations working in the sector, and the communities who care for this heritage and its traditions.

Click here for more information on the Terra 2022 Virtual Lead-Up Events Series.

Click here for more information on Terra 2022 World Congress on Earthen Architectural Heritage.



Speaker Biographies

Christian Luczanits

 Christian Luczanits

Christian Luczanits is David L. Snellgrove Senior Lecturer in Tibetan and Buddhist Art at the Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His research focuses on Buddhist art of India and Tibet, in particular Gandhāran and early western Himalayan art, the latter largely based on extensive field research and documentation done in situ. His book Buddhist Sculpture in Clay: Early Western Himalayan Art, Late 10th to Early 13th Centuries. Chicago: Serindia 2004, focuses on the sculptures in the earthen monuments that house them, while other works document the murals and their content. He has also been involved with conservation projects working in the region.

Gurmeet Rai

Gurmeet S RaiGurmeet S Rai, an architect with specialization in heritage, has worked on the conservation of heritage sites, planning for historic areas and policy documents in both India and abroad. In 1996, she established CRCI India Pvt. Ltd., a leading firm in heritage practice in India. Since its inception, CRCI has prepared cultural heritage conservation and management plans for world heritage sites like Red Fort in Delhi, Ellora Caves in Maharashtra, India, Lumbini in Nepal and Bagan in Myanmar.  Gurmeet has been an advisor to UNESCO in the heritage sector in several countries in South East Asia. She was appointed as lead consultant for the preparation of the Cultural Heritage policy for Punjab in 2011. In 2012, the World Monuments Fund, New York appointed her as project management consultant for the conservation of forty-three protected monuments in Madhya Pradesh. Gurmeet received the Award of Distinction from UNESCO for two projects under the Asia Pacific Architectural Heritage Awards in 2002 and 2004. Thereafter, for over fifteen years, she had been on the jury of the Asia Pacific Architectural Heritage Awards of UNESCO. She is currently a member of the steering committee of TERRA 2022, World Congress on Earthen Architectural Heritage, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. In 2021, she was appointed as heritage specialist for the conservation planning of the Parliament House in New Delhi.  

Kuanghan Li

Kuanghan Li

Dr. Kuanghan Li is the Director Assistant for the UNESCO World Heritage Institute of Training and Research in the Asia and Pacific Region (WHITRAP Beijing), research fellow at the School of Archaeology and Museology, Peking University, senior editor of the Chinese journal Study in Natural and Cultural Heritage, and she also serves as the Director of Programs for Global Heritage Fund (GHF).  She graduated with a degree in architectural studies and went on to study historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania, and received her Ph.D. in archaeology from Peking University. Her specialty is in heritage management and community development and she has diverse international experiences in design, conservation and development projects.

Sreekumar Menon

Sreekumar Menon

Sreekumar Menon is a paintings conservator based in India. He is a partner at Art Conservation Solutions (ACS) a leading private company that has executed a variety of conservation projects across the country. Since 2006, Sreekumar with primary interest in Buddhist art of the Himalayan region and its conservation, has managed and executed several important wall painting conservation projects in Ladakh.

He is in the process of completing his doctoral research on the technique of early wall paintings of Ladakh (11th -14th C) from the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Sree  did his Master’s degree in art conservation from the National Museum Institute, New Delhi before undertaking internships in paintings conservation at the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, New Delhi, Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge and Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL), the Netherlands.

He has worked with the Courtauld Institute of Art on wall painting conservation projects in India and Bhutan and has a number of publications. He is a fellow of the International Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

Arun Menon

Arun Menon

Arun Menon, Arun Menon is Associate Professor of Structural Engineering at IIT Madras, and he holds a PhD in earthquake engineering from University of Pavia, Italy (ROSE School).  His research interests are in structural aspects of historical constructions, earthquake-resistant structural masonry, and earthquake risk assessment.  He coordinates the activities of the National Centre for Safety of Heritage Structures (NCSHS), a Ministry of Education (Govt. of India) -supported research centre at IIT Madras.  He is an expert member of ISCARSAH, and member of the Bureau of Indian Standards Panel for Masonry, CED 46:P7, and Earthquake Engineering Sectional Committee CED 39. He has been involved in conservation projects in India (Rashtrapati Bhawan, IIM, Ahmedabad, Madurai Meenakshi Temple), Bhutan (Tango Monastery, Wangdue Phodrong Dzong), Myanmar (UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bagan) and The Philippines (San Sebastian Basilica, Manila).


Sanjay Dhar

Sanjay Dhar

Sanjay Dhar was instrumental in establishing the INTACH Art Conservation Center in Delhi as a center for excellence with a focus on developing a region-specific approach to the conservation of paintings and training.

Sanjay has trained in India and Italy and has served as a consultant to UNESCO on projects in Ladakh and Minyag, China, WMF (World Monument Fund) and several other private foundations in India and abroad. His doctoral research at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London was on risk assessment and management of wall paintings in Leh Valley of Ladakh.

He has a number of research papers to his credit and has also received several international awards and grants for his projects, notably the UNESCO Asia Pacific Heritage Award of Excellence.

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